While many states have adopted laws designed to reduce prison populations, Arizona has gone in the other direction. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and Arizona is among the states with the highest rate within the country.
The “tough on crime” stance has had an effect, but not necessarily in the area of crime reduction. Over the past 20 years, Arizona’s rate of incarceration has risen dramatically: from one in every 749 persons, to one in every 159. At the same time, Arizona’s crime rates continue to increase, including the rates for rapes and murders, even though both rates have declined nationally. Critics argue, with some persuasive numbers backing them up, that the tough sentencing laws have not had the desired effect on crime reduction, and criminologists give credit to sentencing reform measures, such as probation for non-violent offenders, electronic monitoring devices, and rehabilitation programs, for a reduction in both crimes and in the prison population.
The other side of the equation involves the high cost of incarceration. Arizona will spend more than one billion dollars this year to maintain the prison population in the state. In addition to the dollars spend on maintaining the prison population, the cost of incarceration pulls money from other resources. For example, over the past 20 or so years, the amount of money spent on Corrections increased from 4.3% to 11.2% of the state’s budget. Over that same period, the percentage of the budget spent on education dropped from 19.1% to 10.5%. Last year, Corrections was the only agency whose budget increased, while spending for education, health care and most other areas were cut. Significantly, the Corrections budget will balloon if the Department goes through with plans to award contracts for an additional 5,000 prison beds.
One has to wonder whether, in the face of available statistics, the tougher sentencing laws are in fact a realistic method of reducing crime. Let’s see if Arizona will eventually join the growing number of states that are altering their approach to sentencing in a manner that does not rob the state of precious budget resources.
If you have been charged with a crime in the Greater Phoenix area, contact a Phoenix Criminal Attorney for help.